The mt bike race season starts in a couple weeks forward, so for a few weeks backward I've been getting up long before the sun to put some extra miles in as I commute to work on my single speed. Pre-work riding allows me the opportunity to spend max time with the wifeandkid post-work.
As I wander and wind through the woods, my thoughts often wander and wind in kind. Random thoughts, deep thoughts, inspiring thoughts - the flavor of the mind's early morning reflections as varied as the Cape Cod terrain I spin over.
This morning I came to the base of a double-climb; the first a long and gradual climb, the second a steep climb dotted with rocks and exposed roots. Yesterday's heavy rain made for a wet and soft track, and I had a backpack full of the workday's necessities. It would be a tough slog: I needed inspiration.
I thought of the sign in the front yard of a house I passed on the way to the trails a half hour earlier - the sign honoring the life, death, and sacrifice a local soldier had made.
I began the pedal upward.
I'm not a fan of war but I do respect the sacrifice made by those who serve, and so I thought of the young Marine, stationed in Afghanistan, missing his family, fighting for what he believed was right.
Halfway up the first climb and feeling stronger.
I thought of the inner strength he needed to posess, pure bravery in the face of a daily life and death struggle.
Bore down, pedaled harder, quick cadence. I neared the top of the first climb.
The death was big news in town as his father was a popular local police Lt. The story goes that the father was on duty when the station was called with the terrible news. His brothers in blue were alerted and quickly assembled for comfort and he was called back to the station to be notified.
I crested the top of the first hill and felt full of energy to start the more difficult technical climb.
The father then went home to tell his family. When he entered his house, his family was in the midst of a regular day - his other kids' friends were over, wife was cooking, etc. The father stood there for a few moments to soak in what would be the last time they'd feel the fullness of their family.
I pedaled hard and pulled up over a rock. My balance faltered, but I caught myself and pedaled on.
I think about the father often. He put on such a strong public face through his son's funeral and in the months after. Honors his son's courage every day with his own. But how? How can he keep his strength through such personal devastation?
Halfway up the climb and my back tire slipped on a root. I pulled my wheel over and pedaled on, but my momentum was gone.
I thought of my own son, and the incredible depth of love I feel for him.
I felt my breathing getting heavier, faster. Slipped on a rock and stalled, but crept on, upward.
Thought how I'd be anguished beyond repair if I lost him.
Another slippery root, rear tire spins out. Panting, lump in throat.
Where did, where does the Lt find the strength?
Pedal strikes rock.
If I ever...
I stood straddling my bike and chased my runaway breath, felt wetness in the corners of my eyes. I looked up to clear them. Two scrub pines swayed gently against the pink sky of the sun rising to the east. The woods silent but for my shallow breaths.
I remembered the weekly rides I used to do with a Cat 1/expert racer. I'd spend two hours desperately trying to cling to his back wheel. Occasionally I'd hit the proverbial 'wall' and have to stop and take a breather. I once asked him how he ever got to his level of fitness. He said that you have to push through the struggle. I thought of that often when I reached a point like this, when I felt like quitting. It became a mantra to me: Push through the struggle.
I thought of the Lt. No pain I've ever felt on my bike or otherwise could ever match the pain he would have felt that awful day he found out his son had died, nor in the days, weeks, months after. How could he possibly have moved on with such strength and grace?
I'm sure there were times when he didn't want to. I'm sure he drew courage from the example his son had given, but there had to be solitary moments of cavernous and yielding despair. And yet on he went.
He pushed through the struggle.
I turned my bike around and headed back down to start the climb over again.